Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Luxury or Necessity?
And I dare to ask, are HBCU’s a Luxury or Necessity? Should they still be in existence? Are they still relevant?
Many scholars have argued that blacks have advanced and the need for these schools have either declined or are no longer needed. Things like Affirmative Action allow blacks to advance in “Corporate America,” so “they” say.
Historically black colleges were started, historically, to educate blacks who would otherwise, not be educated. Recently freed slaves were left with little options, so the founding of several black institutions of higher learning began. Although most HBCUs are in Southern States, the first Historically Black College was started in the North. Both Cheyney University (in Philadelphia-1837) and Wilberforce University (in Ohio-1856) were both started by Quakers and educated blacks. Some may argue these were actually, the first HBCUs, influenced heavily by independent religious institutions.
Another school, the Institute for Colored Youth, was started before both Cheyney and Wilberforce in the 1830s by other Philadelphia Quakers.
So in essence, Blacks once again needed a handout to be educated or re-educated, post the African Hellacaust: Slavery in the Americas. After the Civil War, HBCUs began to sprout, but not without opposition. With the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court Decision in 1896, it became law for blacks schools to be created, separate but equal however.
The Morrill-Land Grant Act of 1890 made it federal law for states using federal funds for schools/universities to either open admission to both white and black students, or to allocate money to schools specifically for blacks. With the passing of this second Morrill-Land Grant Act, sixteen black institutions received federal funding. Several black schools including Fisk University and my alma mater, first called the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, graduated several free blacks, including W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington. In the case of Hampton Institute, (now called Hampton University), the school was founded to focus on educating blacks to fill mostly agricultural and mechanical trades. Washington, D.C. was the place that most of these blacks became employed after graduation from Hampton. Even today, the route from Hampton, VA to Washington, D.C. is a very clear and concise one. Don’t think that this clear route is one of coincidence. It has historical data tied to its existence.
With that brief history given, I came to my own sort of conclusion about the founding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As stated earlier, these schools were mostly started to educate blacks that would not be educated otherwise. Otherwise meaning that whites still did not want blacks educated in their schools. It goes deeper to ask if they wanted blacks to be educated at all. But an examination of the acts and laws that had to be enacted to ensure that blacks had an equal chance at an education should give you a very accurate answer to that question. Only strong minds ponder…..
This is not to say that blacks haven’t benefited from the creations of these schools and universities. But with the obvious advancement of black people, and our schools, would it be appropriate to integrate these all-black schools at this point?
Should institutions of higher learning like Tuskegee, Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, FAMU, Central and Elizabeth City be open to students of all color, cultures and creeds?
Is there a need to sustain the legacy that so many of our African-American heroes have fought, and in some instances, died, to keep alive?
I have had several conversations with colleagues of mine about this very subject and one of the most profound answers I got on the need of HBCU’s existence was that “Yes we still need them Of course they have evolved though. But HBCUs have evolved because black people have evolved.”
With that said, are HBCUs a reflection of the educated black man and woman in America? Or are the educated black men and women of America a reflection of HBCUs?
Are blacks that decide to go to culturally mixed, or bigger, more nationally recognized universities experiencing something that blacks educated at HBCUs are not? And vice versa?
Since other universities (non-HBCUs) have certain quotas to meet (i.e.- granting admission in a certain number of “other” races besides Caucasian), do blacks now have an equal chance at education? Do blacks and other minority races have a chance to advance as readily and steadily as their European/ Caucasian counterparts?
Because all people of a racial category besides that of Caucasian or white have had, in one time of history or another, had to fight for equal opportunities with their Caucasian counterparts, do we still need these specialized type of institutions? Are the existence of HBCUs, that educate blacks, still relevant and in need today? In present time?
Surely most can agree that institutions like HBCUs are constant reminders of the struggle for equality that still exists in America today. However, we must ask ourselves several questions, in addition to the ones listed above.
Firstly, have we evolved into a society that honestly looks beyond the barriers of race for qualifications for jobs, school admission, or any other type of advancement?
Once these “educated blacks” graduate from these nationally recognized, accredited African-American institutions, are they equipped with the proper skills to compete with students who have been educated at non-HBCUs?
Is there a precious piece of culture that is missing from blacks that do not graduate from a HBCU?
Or, do HBCUs even give blacks a fair shot in a Capitalist society that constantly encourages us to strive for self, and self only. Further self-attainment being the only reward of being “successful.”
-Since HBCUs strive on providing a communal sense of living, working and playing, is this a hindrance to the black man or woman that graduates from these institutions?
Most people I have talked with on this very sensitive, but important subject speak about the culture of HBCUs. From the bass-dropping bands at football games, to the hopping and strolling Fraternities and Sororities, to the very live and meaningful Homecoming celebrations, to the sense of family one feels at black schools, the culture of these schools is an energy that defies description.
So I ask, and really NEED to know and hear from you: Are Historically Black Colleges and Universities a Luxury or a Necessity for blacks?
Consider all of the things aforementioned and let’s get into a lively discussion about this matter, a meeting of the minds. Because let’s be honest, this does AFFECT me, you, our children and their children.
As one girl from Hampton University put it, “Yes HBCUs are still relevant, but I wish they weren’t.”
Are they though?
And what do you plan to do about your opinion on their existence or not?
**Only Great Minds Ponder…..
"Without Struggle there is no progress" -Frederick Douglass